FAME Review: Robert Soko's Balkan Beat - Soundlab
Robert Soko's Balkan Beat - Soundlab


Robert Soko's Balkan Beat

Available from Amazon.de.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Now this is a freaky and engaging mash-up. That guy on the cover (at least, on the promo copy, that is) looks like a cross between Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, but it's Robert Soko, and he tends to come off like a Blade Runner Vangelis who now remembers his Aphrodite's Child days/daze. 'Member that flipped-out bar scene in Blade Runner, the one that had the riveting Persian-esque space-groove playing in the background of a Chicago mob-looking mook's place? Well, move it a bit to the West and set the affair onto the streets and you have Balkan Beat. Soko, though, began this distinctive sound while DJing in Berlin—in a funky, arty, punky hole-in-the-wall. Yeesh! Coming not long before from Yugoslavia, though, he found himself wanting to hear what he'd cherished back in the old country and set about doing something about it.

The result is provocative, catchy as hell, and a superb blend of what inspired dervishes, Bartok, and the evolving World devotees of our time, here sometimes codified with glitches of Kraftwerk and snatches of elektonische but also generous doses of the region's trad brilliance, the same sort of thing exemplified by Fanfare Ciocarlia (here) and others, especially on this CD's Ziveli Orkestar. This entire remixing gig is a tad baffling to me, I have to say, I just don't quite get the technical aspects of it, but the result in work like Soko's is impressive and then some, not to mention irresistible. One can only imagine what a wild dance floor eventuates from this guy's virally infectious work.

There are 17 cuts on Soundlab and each and every one will put a sweat on ya but also set that rock 'n roll / jazz / avant / whatever heart to skipping beats as a seraphic grin etches itself on a delighted head-bopping mug. Soko's take, for instance, on Tommy Dollar's Balkan Bettie is flipped out, the soundtrack for a video game that might be played by exceptionally twangin' zoot-suited hipsters from Venus after listening to a mutated Benny Goodman cross-transplanted with Raymond Scott chasing after an adrenalined electro-accordionist who just chugged a case of Jolt cola. Rare music, I'm tellin' ya, rare! And every cut here is deep, druggy, delightful, and damned compelling…not to mention hi-octane.

[NOTE: All cuts not by Soko himself are collaborations between Soko and Mikuta; thus, I've entered the group first and then the song title in each entry, but all have been radically reworked. Oh, and in case you recognize that title in cut 10, you're absolutely right: it's the hypnotic-as-all-get-out ditty constantly sung by King Julian in the Madagascar film series.]

Track List:

  • Watcha Clan: We Are One (Hallakoun / Kouti)
  • Slavic Soul Party: Sing Sing Cocek (K. Warren)
  • Ziveli Orkestar: Do Jajan (Balleyguier et al)
  • BerlinskiBeat: Sex, Drugs, Berlinski Beat (Liehm et al)
  • Besh O Drom: Csango Leany (Barcza / Pettik / Sidoo)
  • Tommy Dollar: Balkan Betty (Dellert / Soko / Heretsch / Mikuta)
  • Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestar: Go Marko Go (M. Markovic)
  • Gypsy Hill: Balkan Beast (Gypsy Hill)
  • Romzil: Ca'N Banat (Mikuta / Soko)
  • Los Colorados: I Like To Move It (Morillo / Quashie)
  • Shukar Collective: Muzika N are Kuloare (Mikuta / Stan / Soko)
  • Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orkestra: Roma Project (Gabriels et al)
  • Florian Mikuta: Giampara (Mikuta / Soko)
  • Robert Soko: Kad Ja Podjoh Na Bembasu (trad / Mikuta / Soko)
  • Mode Plagal: Four On The Flo (Mikuta / Soko)
  • Feel Good Productions: Nessunissima (Cavalli / Fede / Murgia / Vola)
  • Deladap: Georgian Lessons (Vana / Makazaria)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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